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Voters in Watson to decide governance; special election may settle town dispute

WATSON -- Voters in Watson will soon have a say in one of the disputes that has divided the community.

A special election will be held from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 23 to decide whether to change the city's form of government.

Watson council members set the election date and ballots have been printed for the special election, according to Jon Clausen, Chippewa County auditor-treasurer.

The election was triggered by a petition from citizens in the community.

They would like to see the city clerk and treasurer positions combined and that position be appointed.

Currently both positions are elected.

The city clerk also is a voting member of the city council, while the treasurer does not have a vote. Loisjean Fossen serves as clerk and Marcie Radtke as treasurer.

If the petitioner's proposal is approved by a simple majority of voters, the two officer-holders would complete their terms. At the start of the new year, the council would appoint a person to the position as an employee.

The special election will also feature a second ballot question on whether or not to allow Sunday liquor sales in the community.

The dispute over city governance has also led to two separate petitions asking for a state audit of the city's books.

A representative from the state auditor's office will be meeting with petitioners on Friday to determine the scope of the audit.

The citizens who brought the initial petition seeking a state audit have a two-page list of questions they'd like to see answered.

The initial petition was followed by a second petition- this one including the names of current city council members- asking that the period to be audited be extended to cover three prior years.

Chief among the questions raised in the initial petition is a request to know how much the city has spent on legal fees with the Kennedy and Graven law firm of Minneapolis.

The community of 211 people has retained the firm to serve as its city attorney, and the firm is managing the litigation against Aziz Ansari, also known as the Tomato Man for his roadside vegetable stand.

The city has accused Ansari of violating city ordinances by erecting plastic covered, hooped structures on his residential property to raise tomatoes and other vegetables.

Ansari disputes that the structures are in violation of the city ordinances, and has answered the city's litigation with his own: He filed a discrimination lawsuit against the city charging a number of current and former city officials with discrimination against him as a person of color and Muslim.

The lawsuit alleges that the city has aggressively prosecuted him for alleged zoning violations while ignoring far more egregious violations elsewhere in the community.

Both the city's and Ansari's cases are moving forward.

Last month, Ansari answered questions during a full day of deposition.

More recently, defendants in the discrimination lawsuit met with legal staff to prepare answers to questions posed by Ansari in the discrimination lawsuit.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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